Media Release

OPEN LETTER – Nobody Left Behind: Ensuring people seeking asylum, refugees and other vulnerable groups are included in COVID-19 responses

The Hon Scott Morrison MP
Prime Minister of Australia
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Dear Prime Minister,

Nobody Left Behind: Ensuring people seeking asylum, refugees and other vulnerable groups are included in COVID-19 responses


We, the 186 organisations listed below, write to you to urgently address the gaps in the current COVID-19 responses and ensure that nobody is left behind.


We welcome the Australian Government’s recognition of the needs within Australia and its action to minimise the health and economic impacts of the global pandemic. We need to ensure that all people in Australia are considered in COVID-19 policies and stimulus packages, especially the most vulnerable who currently are not able to access basic levels of support. Currently, there are highly vulnerable groups who have been left behind, including:

  • People seeking asylum on bridging visas
  • Temporary visa holders including refugees, temporary migrant workers and international students

As Australia and the world suffers the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clearer than ever that how we treat the most vulnerable in our society directly impacts the health and wellbeing of all of us. If anyone is left destitute, with no access to affordable medical help or unable to minimise the risk of catching the virus, all of us are at greater risk.


COVID-19 does not discriminate, and neither should access to a safety net or improved assistance during this time. We are in this together and there must be support for all who need it, regardless of visa status.


We ask you to lead the Australian Government to ensure that all people in Australia are protected from the health and economic impacts of COVID-19 by:

  1. Ensuring all people have access to medical treatment and Medicare for people seeking asylum
  2. Ensuring all people have a financial safety net so they are not forced into destitution:
    1. Extend JobSeeker to people on bridging visas currently ineligible for income support
    2. Extend JobKeeper to temporary visa holders so that businesses employing them can continue to operate
    3. Remove penalties for Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV) holders accessing Special Benefit in light of the pandemic and remove restrictions on accessing Special Benefit for Temporary Protection Visa (TPV) or SHEV holders who are studying
  3. Preventing people from losing legal status and access to support

1.   Access to medical treatment and Medicare for people seeking asylum

People seeking asylum who are living in the community without access to Medicare and basic financial support are some of those at greatest risk for COVID-19 and also those that cannot adhere to public health requirements like self-isolation. Unstable housing as a result of destitution impedes people’s ability to adequately self-isolate. Lack of access to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme means many cannot afford to purchase vital medications. This can further compromise people’s general health and increase their need for hospital admission, which is challenging when the health system is experiencing increased demand due to COVID-19. Without a Medicare card, people will face significant obstacles to testing and treatment. A Medicare card is the only universally-accepted, easy-to-understand identification that facilitates healthcare access for testing and treatment. All people in Australia need access to testing and related treatments and people seeking asylum require urgent access to Medicare.


2.   Access to a safety net to prevent destitution

This situation is growing worse by the day as people seeking asylum and other temporary visa holders lose their only form of income. Charities, which could not cope with the demand for emergency assistance before the pandemic, are now overwhelmed, at a time when they have to work even harder to maintain frontline services because of the spread of COVID-19. Key frontline asylum support services are now receiving more calls each day from people seeking crisis help than at any stage in their history, with many seeing requests triple since mid-March. Many of the people now asking for help were working and paying taxes until recent weeks but, excluded from any form of government assistance, have nothing to survive on. JobSeeker must be extended to all people who do not have an alternative form of income to prevent people from being destitute and homeless.


We welcome the announcement of an emergency relief funding boost to address the needs of vulnerable Australians and people on temporary visas. The Government’s recognition that people are already falling through the cracks is admirable. Unfortunately, the emergency relief funding will not adequately meet the growing needs of people who have lost their jobs, have families to support but without access to a basic safety net. The cracks are widening and the current response does not provide a safety net to catch people need. We need a more dignified and sustainable solution to provide ongoing support to those who are most vulnerable.


The Government’s response package extended access to JobSeeker payments to help support people who have lost their jobs or face reduced hours because of the pandemic. While Australian citizens and permanent visa holders can access JobSeeker payments, people seeking asylum on Bridging Visas and other temporary visa holders cannot. Refugees on temporary visas – TPVs or SHEVs – can access the equivalent of JobSeeker via Special Benefit, but they face strict limitations. The Government’s wage subsidy program JobKeeper is not available to temporary visa holders, including refugees on TPVs and SHEVs and people seeking asylum on Bridging Visas, all of whom cannot return home.


From an economic perspective, we need to ensure that employers are able to retain the staff they need to remain viable. Employers are being denied the choice to retain key staff who are temporary visa holders, even if they have been employed with them for over 12 months. JobKeeper must be extended to include people employed and holding temporary visas.


People found to be refugees but granted only temporary visas continue to have no certainty about their visa status and their job security during the economic downturn. Despite working very hard to try to keep their jobs, some have already lost their employment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is clear many more will lose their employment in the near future.


People who hold SHEVs are anxious about the impact of the current pandemic on their ability to fulfil the pathway requirements of this visa. SHEV holders may apply for a limited range of permanent visas if they can provide evidence they have met a pathway which requires them to work or study in a designated “regional” area for 3½ years without accessing Centrelink payments. SHEV holders who have already lost their employment are worried about accessing the Centrelink Special Benefits they would qualify for, as they fear this will impact upon their ability to fulfil the SHEV pathway. The arbitrary criteria of the SHEV pathway, and people’s worry about fulfilling them, may leave them destitute and even more at risk of COVID-19.


The pandemic has also made it even harder for SHEV holders to try to find appropriate work in a designated regional area. Without ongoing employment, they are much less likely to meet the work requirements of the few permanent visas that may otherwise be available to them. The SHEV pathway criteria urgently need to change in order to protect SHEV holders and the Australian community.


TPV and SHEV holders who are studying a course greater than 12 months are prevented from access to Special Benefit. This has created significant hardship for refugees, especially young people, who are studying at university or through a vocational education provider. These students are not eligible for commonwealth support for education, such as the Higher Education Loan Program and Commonwealth Supported Places. This means that they must pay full international student rates up front, causing them significant hardship. Many of these refugee students have lost the casual jobs they relied upon to support their study. Many are facing the difficult choice of withdrawing from studies to be eligible for Special Benefit or continue studying with no income and face destitution. Students have also had to move their studies online, with additional expenses for computers, internet access and other essentials. The Special Benefits criteria should be amended to enable TPV and SHEV holders to receive support while studying full-time.


3.   Access to a valid visa

The current visa system, which sees people apply for a bridging visa renewal and face either months-long delays or refusals without clear reasons, means that people who have made every effort to engage in the process face being left without regular visa status, with no rights or entitlements. Further flexibility should be applied to deadline extensions and visa conditions (like access to Medicare and work rights). While community legal centres continue to operate remotely, many charities and volunteer organisations who assisted people in filling forms related to visa applications and renewals have had to suspend these services. This creates a significant barrier for people to remain lawful and maintain their access to rights that are linked to visas, including Medicare and work rights. We need visa security for all: security in the visa they hold, security in knowing their applications will be processed in a timely way, and security in knowing they will have work rights and Medicare. Visa grants and renewals need to be simplified and prompt.


Urgent Action Required

This suite of actions would prevent people from becoming homeless and ensure that people seeking asylum, refugees and other vulnerable temporary visa holders have the medical treatment they need to stay healthy and to avoid getting others sick. It would also ensure that Australia can rebuild – economically and socially – both during the crisis and afterwards. This virus does not discriminate on the basis of citizenship or visa status. We must act to ensure the protection of all people currently living in Australia. This must include ensuring that everyone now in Australia has the means to survive, maintain a roof over their heads and stay well during this pandemic. Maintaining the health of everyone currently in Australia, regardless of their citizenship or visa status, is in the interests of all of us. As a community, we have the opportunity during the COVID-19 pandemic to make decisions that are compassionate, constructive and responsible. Only in doing so, can we ensure Australia emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic with a resilient, healthy and cohesive community. There are tens of thousands of refugees, people seeking asylum, and other migrants in Australia who make up our communities, and they cannot be forgotten at this time of great need. Nobody should be left behind.



  1. Refugee Council of Australia
  2. Academics for Refugees
  3. ACT Council of Social Service
  4. ActionAid Australia
  5. Adelaide Weekly Vigil For Manus and Nauru
  6. Aireys Inlet Rural Australians for Refugees
  7. All Together Now
  8. Amnesty International Australia
  9. Amnesty International Refugee Rights Action Group
  10. Amnesty International Townsville
  11. AMSA Crossing Borders
  12. AMSA Crossing Borders Deakin
  13. ANU Postgraduate and Research Students’ Association
  14. Arab Council Australia
  15. Armidale Rural Australians for Refugees
  16. Armidale Sanctuary Humanitarian Settlement
  17. Armidale Students Promoting International Rights and Equity (ASPIRE)
  18. Asylum Seeker Resource Centre
  19. Asylum Seekers Centre
  20. Auburn Parish Uniting Church
  21. Australian Baptist Ministries
  22. Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce
  23. Australian Council of Social Service
  24. Australian Council of Trade Unions
  25. Australian Lawyers for Human Rights
  26. Australian Progress
  27. Australian Refugee Action Network
  28. Balmain For Refugees
  29. Baptist Union of Victoria
  30. Blue Mountains Together for Timor Inc
  31. Bridge for Asylum Seekers
  32. Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project
  33. Brotherhood of St Laurence
  34. Canberra Baptist Church
  35. Canberra Refugee Support
  36. CAPSA (Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum)
  37. Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney
  38. Catholic Diocese of Parramatta
  39. Catholic Justice and Peace Commission of Brisbane
  40. Catholic Social Services Victoria
  41. Central Victorian Refugee Support Network
  42. Centre for Asylum Seekers, Refugees, and Detainees (CARAD)
  43. Centre for Human Rights Education, Curtin University
  44. Centre for Multicultural Youth
  45. Christian Life Community
  46. Churches Housing Inc.
  47. Climactic Collective
  48. cohealth
  49. Common Grace
  50. Community Legal WA
  51. CORE Community Services
  52. Crossing Borders at Western Sydney University
  53. Crossing Borders for Health UWA
  54. Crossing Borders South Australia
  55. Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network (DASSAN)
  56. Democracy in Colour
  57. Doctors for Refugees (Australia)
  58. Eastern Community Legal Centre Inc
  59. Eastern Region Domestic Violence Services Network Inc.
  60. Economic Justice Australia
  61. End Child Detention Coaliton
  62. Federal Loves Refugees
  63. Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA)
  64. Flemington Kensington Community Legal Centre
  65. Forum of Australian Services for Survivors of Torture and Trauma
  66. Foundation for Young Australians
  67. Fremantle Refugee Rights Action Network (RRAN)
  68. GetUp
  69. Global Health at Western Sydney University (GHAWS)
  70. Global Health Society of The Australian National University Medical Students Society
  71. Grandmothers for Refugees
  72. Grandmothers for Refugees Newcastle
  73. Grandmothers for Refugees NSW
  74. Harmony Alliance: Migrant and Refugee Women for Change
  75. Hawkesbury Rural Australians for Refugees
  76. Hobsons Bay Refugee Network
  77. Hope Co-Op
  78. Human Rights Law Centre
  79. Hunter Asylum Seeker Advocacy
  80. Hunter Community Alliance
  81. Indooroopilly Uniting Church
  82. Indooroopilly Uniting Church Refugee and Asylum Seeker Support Group
  83. Insight Global Health Group
  84. Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia and Papua New Guinea
  85. Interhealth UWA
  86. International Tamil Refugee Advocacy Network
  87. Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Australia
  88. Jesuit Social Services
  89. Jews For Refugees
  90. Josephite Justice Network
  91. Justice and freedom for Ceylon Tamils Inc
  92. Justice for Refugees SA
  93. Kevin Heinze Grow
  94. Kingsford Legal Centre
  95. Labor for Refugees
  96. Labor for Refugees Queensland
  97. Life Without Barriers
  98. Light the Dark Alice Springs
  99. Macquarie University Global Health Society
  100. Medical Association for Prevention of War
  101. Mercy Community Romero Centre
  102. Mercy Foundation
  103. Mercy Works Ltd
  104. Migration and Refugee Research Network
  105. Migration Council Australia
  106. Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network Australia (MYAN)
  107. Multicultural Youth Affairs Network NSW
  108. Mums4Refugees
  109. National Council of Churches in Australia
  110. National Justice Project
  111. National Refugee led Advisory and Advocacy Group (NRAAG)
  112. NSW Council of Social Services
  113. NT Council of Social Services
  114. Older Women’s Network NSW Inc
  115. Orana House Inc
  116. Our Race
  117. Pax Christi Australia
  118. Pax Christie Qld
  119. Port Adelaide and Semaphore Amnesty International Australia Action Group
  120. Queer Sisterhood Project
  121. RAR Castlemaine
  122. Refugee Action Campaign, Canberra
  123. Refugee Action Coalition
  124. Refugee Action Collective Eurobodalla
  125. Refugee Action Collective Queensland (RAC Qld)
  126. Refugee Advice & Casework Service (RACS)
  127. Refugee Advocacy Network
  128. Refugee and Immigration Legal Service (RAILS)
  129. Refugee Council of Australia
  130. Refugee Health Network Qld
  131. Refugee Legal
  132. Refugee Rights Action Network WA
  133. Riverview Community Services
  134. Rural Australians for Refugees
  135. Rural Australians for Refugees Daylesford
  136. Saint Vincent de Paul Society
  137. Save the Children Australia
  138. SCALES Community Legal Centre
  139. Settlement Council of Australia
  140. Settlement Services International
  141. Shelter NSW
  142. Sisters of Mercy,  Brisbane Congregation
  143. Sisters of St Joseph
  144. Social Justice Group, Our Lady Of Lourdes Parish, Seven Hills
  145. South Australian Council of Social Service (SACOSS)
  146. South Gippsland Rural Australians for Refugees
  147. Springvale Monash Legal Service
  148. St Francis Social Services
  149. St Vincent de Paul Society NSW
  150. Strathfield-Homebush Uniting Church
  151. Sydney Alliance
  152. Tasmanian Asylum Seeker Support
  153. Tasmanian Council of Social Service (TasCOSS)
  154. Tasmanian Refugee Rights Action Group
  155. Tassie Nannas
  156. Teachers for Refugees NSW
  157. The Humanitarian Group
  158. The Tasmania Opportunity
  159. Townsville Labor for Refugees
  160. Townsville Multicultural Support Group Inc
  161. Unions NSW
  162. Unions Tasmania
  163. Unions WA
  164. United Workers Union
  165. Uniting Church Action for Society and Environment
  166. Uniting Church in Australia Assembly
  167. Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of NSW & ACT
  168. Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania
  169. Uniting Church Synod of South Australia
  170. Uniting NSW ACT
  171. Uniting Vic.Tas
  172. UnitingCare Australia
  173. Victorian Refugee Health Network
  174. Victorian Trades Hall Council
  175. Welcoming Australia
  176. West Ryde Community Church
  177. Western Australian Council of Social Service Inc (WACOSS)
  178. Western Australian Medical Students’ Association
  179. Western Sydney Medical Society
  180. WEstjustice Community Legal Centre
  181. Whittlesea Community Connections
  182. Willungs Circle of Friends
  183. Wollondilly Resilence Network (WReN) Inc
  184. World Vision
  185. Zig Zag Young Women’s Resource Centre Inc
  186. Zonta House Refuge Association Inc.